Friday, November 13, 2009

Are there ways to extend the usefulness of items in Homeless World Sacramento?

This may seem to be — and, indeed, may be — an inauspicious blogpost, but the issue of extending the utility of many items in Homeless World Sacramento would save precious money for other important uses.

What am I talking about? Well, items like blankets, razors, toothbrushes, bicycles, sleeping bags, and tents.

Razors and toothbrushes

In an ordinary "housed" life, a man's toothbrush and disposable razor are likely to last quite a while. A single-blade Bic disposable razor should last for a week of shaves. A toothbrush should last for three months.

But razors in the Wash House at the Loaves & Fishes complex can end up being used just once. And what you get is a razor that's pretty good, much better than any plastic Bic. But even for those of us who try to be conscientious, it is hard to use a slightly dulled blade when new razors are readily available.

The toothbrushes they will give you in the wash house are not for-sale-at-Walgreen's quality, but, again, they most often get used far short of their lifespan.

Mark, the manager of the wash house, saves funds by limiting the days of the week when razors and toothbrushes are available [MWF for razors; Tues, only, for toothbrushes], which encourages multiple usages of the items, but this presents a problem with regard to razors: rarely, but on occassion, a guy without a razor on a Tuesday or Thursday will borrow another guy's razor, presenting risk of blood transfer of HIV. According to Street Count 2009, a count of the homeless in Sacramento county, conducted last January, 60 people out of a homeless population of 2800 [2.1%], self-report as having HIV/AIDS. It is not good to share razors.


If you want to have a bicycle in Homeless World, you can get one — cheaply.

The economics of homeless bicycle possession works like this: Bicycles are easily stolen. You can get a good bicycle for twenty bucks from a brother homeless guy. Of course, the bike is stolen.

The bicycle you buy is at high risk of being stolen. After it's stolen, you might see it on the street; the guy riding it will say that he bought it from some guy for twenty bucks and that he had no idea that it might of been -- God forbid! -- stolen.

On occassion bicycles enter Homeless World via raffles at Homeless events [at Homeless Connect or a celebration at Friendship Park or at the mission, for example] and a homeless guy will, with full legitimacy, have ownership of his mode of transportation. And, it does happen that guys buy bicycles at stores because they want a particular bike, or one that's new, or one that's NOT STOLEN. Eventually, though, it seems, all bicycles in Homeless World become stolen black-market bicycles in Homeless World.

Tents, Blankets and Sleeping Bags

While a bicycle requires a lock of some sort if you expect to keep it for more than a day or two, a tent, blanket or sleeping bag requires a secure place to keep it. Otherwise, its utility life is very short.

Because there is no place for a person living in the outback or on the street to securely keep his camping/sleeping items they don't last long in Homeless World. Another reason items of some value leave Homeless World is because guys who get them might sell them to buy the substance they're abusing or pass them on to 'housed' children or family members.

Not having a place to keep things results in them being discarded. A curious thing that happens, then, is that homeless people sleep in NEW tents, in NEW sleeping bags or covered by NEW blankets. If you look carefully at pictures of homeless tent communities, you will see what I mean. By golly, how nice; everything's so new.

It would be discouraging to people who magnanimously donate rather-expensive items for use by the homeless, if they knew the short utility life of things out here.

Often, guys who try to get a bed at the Union Gospel Mission, but can't, will receive a blanket from mission management to make it through a cold night. I don't know the stats, but I am quite sure it is infrequent that the blankets ever make it back to the mission.

Blankets and pajamas don't last a great many months in the mission dorm; guys sneak them out of the facility, wearing them under their clothes. The mission needs to have a constant stream of incoming donated blankets and pajamas to keep up with the theft rate.  One effort that has been tried and does succeed in fully detering theft is to have guys always leave their clothes in their lockers and then strip naked, depositing their pajamas in a laundry barrel, to recover their clothes in the morning

What can be done!?

There is difficulty and other downside factors relating to any efforts to give the items named in this blogpost a longer Homeless World utility life. Computerization making tracking of items possible will one day be a big help. Giving every homeless person a place to keep his/her things would help mightily, too.

Razors and toothbrushes: Requiring guys to turn in a used razor or toothbrush, to get a new replacement, on every day except the first or third Monday of the month, when forking over your old razor/toothbrush wouldn't be required, might be an idea that would extend the utility lives of these items.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation website tells us "HIV is very fragile, and many common substances, including hot water, soap, bleach and alcohol, will kill it."  Perhaps, leaving used-but-reusable razors on the counter, with the heads soaking in rubbing alcohol, for guys to use on Tuesdays and Thursdays would meet the need for guys to have a razor to use every day and fully defeat any risk of HIV transference.

Bicycles: Requiring people to 'register' their bicycles at Loaves & Fishes with pictures and frame ID numbers might help, but it would be a big hassle for everyone, most especially Friendship Park personnel, and still it might do little to deter theft or result in people seeing their bikes be returned. Better, likely, is use of , which is a free resource to register and track stolen bicycles. "It is run by tech-savvy people who love their bikes and hate the people who steal them."

Tents, sleeping bags and blankets: If these items were borrowed from homeless-help organizations instead of given to homeless people it might significantly extend their usefulness lives. One problem, though, is that tents, sleeping bags and blankets used out-of-doors in Sacramento county cause crime because of the criminalization of sleeping somewhere other than in a shelter or transitional housing. Homeless-help orgs shouldn't be put in a position of fostering crime, brave as they want to be and can be in the effort to help homeless people find places to sleep.

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